Leeds nostalgia: City’s shopping district shares Medieval boundary

Have your say

One of the most ancient parts of the city is set to be commemorated next week, even though its long since gone missing.

The southern bar stone was one of six which used to delineate the ancient boundary of the town. They were used widely in Medieval times and would have been entry points to the town. Most, if not all, would have had substantial wooden gates attached to them and in all likelihood would have been guarded day and night, in a bid to prevent ‘undesirables’ gaining access to the town.

It’s a sobering thought that the perimeter of the stones, which once outlined the fullest extent of the town during Medieval times, nowadays outlines the central shopping district.

In the past, however, the entire town would have been contained within them, with businesses, domestic dwellings and not to mention the often quite luxurious estates of wealthy merchants, who had large tracts of land and even orchards within the town boundary.

Members of Leeds Civic Trust are to unveil a new blue plaque - their 155th commemorative plaque - on Wednesday.

Dr Kevin Grady, director of the trust, said they planned to mark two more of the bar stones in the future.

“There were six bar stones originally but today only three remain. Three have blue plaques already but in time we want to mark them all.

“The reason we decided to mark the site of the southern stone now was because, following the completion of the Trinity development, the old West Bar, which used to be in the underpass near the bus stops and close to the St John Centre, has been moved recently across the road. So, it was on our mind, as it were.”

Only three of the original six stones remain and it is unclear what happened to the missing ones, although it is generally presumed they have been thrown away parts of the city have been developed.

The three remaining stones include the Burley Bar, which dates from at least 1725 and is displayed in a glass cabinet inside the headquarters of Leeds Building Society, although it used to be on the outside, the East Bar, which can still be seen in the low wall outside Leeds Minster and the North Bar, which is hidden from view but is housed in the old West Yorkshire bus station ticket office.

The three which have been lost are the West Bar, which was at the city centre end of Boar Lane, the South Bar and Woodhouse Bar, which was on Woodhouse Lane.

Dr Grady said: “One of the rules of thumb we use when deciding whether to award a blue plaque is, if it’s something which is after 1800, then we really prefer there to be an extant building of some kind but pre-1800 we allow more leniency.

“We know the bar stones were important places to get in and out of the city - one of the early drawings of the city, that being John Cossin’s 1726 plan, shows the bar stones with physical gates attached and this was also common in other towns and cities at the time.

When lighting began to be installed in Leeds in the mid 1700s, it was the bar stones which were used to define who should pay new ‘improvement rates’, even though these had already extended beyond the bar stones by the early 1820s.

Dr Grady said he would like to see the North Bar stone uncovered again.